AUGUSTA, Ga. – On the eve of winning his third green jacket, on a night he stayed up until 1 a.m. watching movies with his kids, Phil Mickelson had to tend to one more fatherly duty.
His oldest daughter Amanda, 10, had injured her arm in a roller-skating accident, so Mickelson arranged for a doctor to open up an office so she could get an X-ray and splint.
The Mickelsons are used to spending time in hospitals. Wife Amy and mother Mary have breast cancer. Since Amy was diagnosed last May, the family has traveled more than six times to Houston from their home north of San Diego, seeking specialized care. The prognosis for Amy and Mary is good, yet the day-to-day battle with the medication has zapped their energy and worn on their bodies. Amy, once one of the most visible wives on the PGA Tour, had not traveled to an event with her husband in 11 months.
The treatment also had taken a toll on Mickelson. After winning four PGA Tour events in 2009, his season got off to an un-Phil-like start. Mickelson’s run-up to Augusta included just one top-10 finish. In consecutive weeks leading to the Masters, he failed to crack the top 25 at Bay Hill and Houston.
But something tugs at Mickelson each time he turns his car down Magnolia Lane.
“When I get here to Augusta, I get very relaxed and feel very comfortable,” Mickelson said. “I’m in love with this place, and it brings out the best in me.”
Mickelson had cut practice sessions short early in the week in order to spend extra quality time with his family, which had arrived in Augusta on Tuesday, two days after he was on site, and stayed at a house near the course. Each morning, Mickelson awoke early and took 8-year-old daughter Sophia to a local coffee shop to play chess. At night, he would watch movies and play games with 7-year-old Evan.
But on Sunday, Amy and the kids kissed their father goodbye and told him that they wanted to stay behind at the house. If Mickelson was playing well and in contention, they would join him at the course.
When Mickelson got to the par-5 13th hole, fresh off a birdie at the par-3 12th for a one-shot lead over a surging K.J. Choi, Amy figured she’d stay just a little longer at the house to watch on TV. After all, the 13th was Mickelson’s favorite hole. A day earlier, he eagled there after hitting a skyscraping 7-iron to within 15 feet of a hole cut on the green’s back ridge.
But on Sunday, Mickelson’s tee ball didn’t curl around the corner of the dogleg. Instead, it blew straight through on the right side and settled on the pine straw between two trees. As Mickelson mulled his options, caddie Jim “Bones” Mackay tried to talk him out of going for the green. He reminded Mickelson about the par-5 15th hole a day earlier, when he layed up to wedge distance and nearly holed out for a third eagle in a row.
“(Mickelson) said, ‘Listen, there’s an opening in the trees and it’s just a 6-iron,’ ” Mackay said about his conversation with his boss. “ ‘All I have to do is execute. It’s not like I have to hit a big hook or big cut. I have to hit a 6-iron on a big ol’ green.’
“So I got out of the way.”
From 207 yards, Mickelson hit a shot that Mackay would later call “maybe the best shot I’ve ever seen him hit.” The ball zipped through a 4-foot-wide gap, climbed through the air as if propelled by rockets, then landed softly on the front of the green and rolled to within 10 feet of the cup.
From her vantage point at the house, Amy knew her husband had made up his mind to go for the green just by his body language.
“I like that in him,” she said. “I know sometimes some people question him, like ‘Why did he do that?’ But I don’t (question him). I believe in him.”
Mickelson would two-putt for birdie, then add another at No. 15 to extend his lead to two shots.
By the time he arrived at No. 18, Amy and the kids already were in place behind the green. With his ball in the first cut of rough, 175 yards from the hole and the fading sunlight causing the patrons’ shadows to dance across the fairway, Mickelson hoisted a 7-iron shot that came to rest 10 feet right of the hole.
By now, tears already had begun streaming down Amy’s face. Mary and Mickelson’s father, Phil Sr., stood nearby. They, too, had tears in their eyes.
When Mickelson’s birdie putt dropped, giving him a final-round 67 and 272 total, the lowest by a Masters champion since Tiger Woods in 2001, he locked eyes with his wife, walked over and wrapped his 6-foot-3-inch frame around her pint-sized body.
“I don’t normally shed tears over wins,” Mickelson said, his voice quivering. “When Amy and I hugged off 18, that was a very emotional moment for us.”
It was the cherry on a Masters sundae that the world could not wait to devour. The week began with the anticipation of Woods’ return from a five-month hiatus caused by a sex scandal. He met with the media as a whole for the first time April 5 and revealed, among other things, that while in rehab he had missed his son’s first birthday and that his wife, Elin, would not be making the trip to Augusta.
Woods received generous applause and support Thursday when he carded two eagles en route to an opening 4-under 68. A 70 on Friday placed him within two shots of leaders Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter. But by Saturday, Woods’ game and emotions became erratic. Despite making seven birdies in Round 3, he unleashed several expletive-laced comments – outbursts he vowed to curtail in a statement made weeks before – after sliced drives and pulled iron shots resulted in a disappointing 70.
The reception he received on the first tee Sunday was warm, but not overwhelming. The patrons had saved their loudest ovations for Mickelson and Fred Couples, who took the first-round lead with a 66 and at 50 was bidding to become the Masters’ oldest champion.
Woods never got close enough to put pressure on Mickelson and third-round leader Westwood. Despite holing out for eagle from the fairway at No. 7 and adding another eagle at the par-5 15th, Woods struggled with his putter at crucial moments. A three-putt bogey from 8 feet on No. 14 stymied any chance of a comeback victory.
“I finished fourth. It’s not what I wanted,” Woods said. “I wanted to win this tournament. As the week went on, I kept hitting the ball worse.”
Mickelson, however, saved his best for last.
On a warm Sunday evening in Georgia worthy of an Ansel Adams portrait, Mickelson left Augusta holding hands with Amy, a green jacket – size 44 long – crisply covering his broad shoulders.
“I’ll cherish every moment of this week,” Mickelson said. “It has been very special.”